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Hollywood's happy ending

Box-office grosses for the last weekend of 2006 are 10% higher than a year earlier as certain holdover films continue to draw strong crowds.

January 01, 2007|Josh Friedman | Times Staff Writer

Led by three holiday-season hits, Hollywood closed out 2006 on a strong note at the box office.

"Night at the Museum," a comic fantasy starring Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson, grossed an estimated $37.8 million in the U.S. and Canada over the weekend. Two other holdovers, "The Pursuit of Happyness" and "Dreamgirls," also drew big crowds.

Overall grosses surged 10% from the same weekend a year earlier, according to box-office tracker Media by Numbers. For the year, revenue climbed 4.9% to $9.4 billion, thanks to a 3.3% rise in attendance and higher ticket prices.

Twentieth Century Fox's "Night at the Museum" stayed atop the charts in its second weekend, lifting its box-office total well past $100 million in the U.S. and Canada despite mixed reviews from critics.

"It's 100 fun minutes -- just a good time in the theater," said Bruce Snyder, president of domestic distribution at Fox. "The reviews were soft, but the public is loving it."

Business for the comedy -- starring Stiller as a night guard at New York's Museum of Natural History, where the exhibits come to life after the lights go off -- climbed 24% from the pre-Christmas weekend.

Sony Pictures' "The Pursuit of Happyness," an inspirational drama starring Will Smith as a homeless father who becomes a stockbroker, generated an estimated $19.3 million in its third weekend.

With today's holiday ticket sales, it will become Smith's 10th feature to top $100 million at the domestic box office. Its success helped Sony rack up an industry record $1.69 billion in domestic grosses in 2006.

"Our pursuit of happiness has been realized," said Rory Bruer, the studio's president of domestic distribution.

"Dreamgirls" continued to sparkle for Paramount Pictures in the third weekend of its carefully staged rollout.

The musical, a DreamWorks co-production adapted from the Motown-themed Broadway success, took in an estimated $15.5 million after expanding from three exclusive engagements to 852 theaters.

"This is one of those rare movies that's so great to see in a crowded theater, with the audience responding so enthusiastically," said Rob Moore, president of worldwide marketing and distribution at Paramount.

"Dreamgirls," which the studio expects to get a big push from the approaching Academy Awards season, averaged about $18,000 per theater, by far the highest in the top 10.

Paramount plans to expand the musical, whose cast includes Beyonce Knowles, Jamie Foxx, Jennifer Hudson and Eddie Murphy, to about 1,800 theaters Jan. 12.

In the first weekend of its moderately wide release, "Dreamgirls" grossed more than "Chicago" did during any weekend of its run. That musical, released in late 2002, went on to win the Oscar for best picture and gross $171 million domestically.

Paramount also was encouraged by the results for its family film "Charlotte's Web," which finished fourth for the weekend. The G-rated, live-action version of the classic children's book grossed an estimated $12 million in its third weekend, its best haul yet.

The motion picture is playing well with mothers as well as children, Moore said, and should benefit this week from winter vacations at many elementary schools.

MGM's "Rocky Balboa," with a 60-year-old Sylvester Stallone playing the Italian Stallion for the sixth time, wobbled a bit in its second weekend.

The boxing sequel grossed an estimated $11.4 million, apparently edging out Universal Pictures' "The Good Shepherd" for fifth place. But it was the only film among the top 10 to decline from a week earlier, slipping 7% from its debut.

Even so, the drama was produced for a modest $24 million, and its gross is approaching $50 million in the U.S. and Canada through two weekends.

Universal could have a tougher time making a profit with its espionage drama "The Good Shepherd," which cost an estimated $110 million to produce. The film, starring Matt Damon and directed by Robert De Niro, has tallied about $35 million through two weekends.

Several awards season contenders played well in limited releases.

"Pan's Labyrinth," a Spanish epic from writer-director Guillermo del Toro, averaged about $35,000 per theater in its opening at 17 engagements. The distributor is Picturehouse, a joint venture of HBO Films and New Line Cinema.

"Children of Men," Alfonso Cuaron's futuristic adventure starring Clive Owen and Julianne Moore, averaged about $33,000 at 16 locations in its second weekend for Universal.

And "Notes on a Scandal," a psychological thriller starring Judi Dench and Cate Blanchett, averaged about $19,000 at 22 locations for Fox Searchlight.

A mix of titles will hit theaters Friday to kick off the 2007 release calendar, including New Line's "Code Name: The Cleaner," a crime comedy starring Cedric the Entertainer; Paramount's "Freedom Writers," with Hilary Swank as an inspirational teacher; and the animated fairy-tale spoof "Happily N'Ever After" from Lions Gate.

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josh.friedman@latimes.com

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

Box office

Preliminary results (in millions) in the U.S. and Canada, based on studio projections:

*--* Movie 3-daygross Total Night at the Museum $37.8 $116.9

The Pursuit of Happyness 19.3 98.3

Dreamgirls 15.5 38.5

Charlotte's Web 12.0 52.9

Rocky Balboa 11.4 48.8

The Good Shepherd 11.2 35.3

Eragon 8.5 56.7

We Are Marshall 8.0 25.1

Happy Feet 7.8 176.2

The Holiday 6.7 50.0

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Industry total

*--* 3-day gross Change (in millions) from 2005 $165.0 +10.0%

Year-to-date gross Change (in billions) from 2005 $9.40 +4.9%

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Source: Media by Numbers

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